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July 13, 2009

In spring,
some sprinkle lamb with a seasoning of sea salt, with garlic, bay and rosemary, and spit-roast the meat, for a festive gathering in Genoa or Crete, but I don’t; for my gathering is of petals of my damask roses, a gathering of thousands in the uplands of Iran.

In summer,
some swim at leisure in the salt Aegean or play on crowded beach. Such opportunities are not within my reach, as I sort out the figures for the tax to be paid, on export orders for attar of roses, superior grade.

In summer too,
I receive the almonds from my bowing trees, buying sea salt from Brittany, to season a proportion of the crop, which is roasted to perfection and tied up prettily, in bags that I have made from patterned cloth. The remainder of the produce of my sheltered orchard, I shell and grind and sell for use in fine confections.

In autumn,
when the crocus corm, salt of the earth and worth the wait, comes into bloom, I take no rest. The precision extraction of splinters of stigma is an endurance test. The task is barely done, before I weigh and pack and label the insubstantial wisps, which have been set to dry, and seal each little box with wax, red for première qualité, pricing them according to the tax that will be levied and the value of the labour that has gone into the production of every gram of saffron.

In winter,
in Stockholm, some bake saffron bread for the welcoming of visitors. In Brussels, others, when dining in company, proffer pastel-tinted macaroons with after-dinner coffee. In Edinburgh, others still, invite invited guests to drink a dram and nibble salted offerings and cake of brandied fruit with, concealed beneath the icing, a layer of marzipan. In Lombardy, my stigma gild saffron risotto, for those who meet and greet in the restaurants of Milan.

Meanwhile, everywhere, glassy cubes of loukoum waft their rosy perfume, redolent of breathless days of May, bewitching children with their alchemy and getting faces sticky.

Thus the yield my harvest brings will take me to Morocco, where they lay lemons down in salt, to make a piquant condiment, added as ingredient, together with some whispered strands of stigma plucked by my own hands, to suffuse a lamb tagine with taste beyond imagining, renewing bonds with kith and kin.

For the very act of sharing a repast in rich conviviality is, itself, a seasoning, without price and tax-free.

by Rachel Woolf

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  1. tessa thomas
    July 26, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    This is a feast . Beautiful words beautifully put together. Thank you .

  2. Tina Moskal
    August 7, 2009 at 10:17 am

    Redolent indeed (and in word!), of lovely, elegant places and peoples, and the actual words of the poem sound as luscious in a speaker’s mouth as the flavours of the foods do in the mind’s mouth.
    I love the sense of restraint tempering the indulgence. There is not a word wasted; and perhaps because the flavours conjured are delicate ones, a couple of them exotic and still rare here despite today’s global gourmandising, there is throughout the poem no sense of gluttony; simply of exquisite taste.

  3. Vincent
    August 7, 2009 at 11:36 am

    This poem takes me on a wide trip of tastes and smells round the Mediterranean, and beyond. Some of the best things life has to offer are hinted at. And I love the mundane details of tax and book-keeping and wrapping, beside the sensuous skein of saffron and attar of almonds.

    My uncle was a cultivator in Saffron Walden. What did he grow? Lavender!

    December 19, 2010 at 4:39 am

    Brilliant piece of writing. A wonderful menue full of so many exotic dishes…food for the mind. Thank you

    • Rachel Woolf
      December 19, 2010 at 8:49 am

      Thank you Alan. In print it is lovely, but of course minus the voices. It was co-edited by the talented Anna Dickie. Here’s to ever strengthening Scottish/trans-Atlantic poetry links.

  5. December 19, 2010 at 11:08 am

    Beautifully done!

  6. Maria Chamberlain
    December 20, 2010 at 7:18 am

    I love the botany of this. So beautiful.

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